10/19/2012, 00.00
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Tribal oaths and animism forced on Lao Christians to renege on their faith

Three Protestant clergymen and their families were forced to undergo this experience. Arrested by police in Phin District, the pastors were released by provincial authorities, but instead of letting them go home, local officials prodded by village chiefs and elders forced them to undergo harassing ritual practices to force them to give up their religion.

Vientiane (AsiaNews) - Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) is reporting that government officials are trying to force Christians to attend animist rituals and meetings to lead them away from their religion. Three Protestant clergymen found this out recently. After the authorities failed to have them convicted last month on vague (and unfounded) charges of anti-government propaganda and religiously-based conspiracy, they agreed with village chiefs to subject the pastors traditional animistic rituals and practices in order to have them renege their faith.

On 11 September, police in Phin District, in the southern province of Savannakhet, took into custody the three Protestant clergymen, Revs Bounlert, Adang and Onkaew, and jailed them in Savannakhet Prison.

After weeks of investigation led to nothing, provincial authorities had to release the men on 10 October. However, the latter y never made it to their respective villages in Phin District, where their families waited for them in vain. Instead, Phin District Prison officials kept for more mistreatment, harassment, threats and abuses to find new evidence with which to charge them.

When this proved futile, yesterday afternoon police authorities summoned chiefs and elders from the clergymen's villages, as well as Rev Bounlert's family. The village chiefs and elders asked to put the Christians through animist rituals like forcing them to take an oath in accordance with local traditions using "holy water" to make them "renege their faith" before "sending them home."

In the absence of any legal bases or evidence, Phin officials agreed to use popular customs to overcome the clergymen's resistance, but to no avail.

All three of men of the cloth and their families refused to take part in any such ceremonies, reiterating that they would never give up their faith whatever the consequences may be. Instead, they insisted that the right to religious freedom was guaranteed under the constitution of Laos.


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